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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

WWYDW: Who goes when Sekera and Larsson return?

After missing a couple weeks of action with a back injury, Adam Larsson is a game time decision to return to the Oilers on Thursday against the Nashville Predators. While we don’t have an exact date on when Andrej Sekera will return following off-season surgery, it’s likely the veteran defender will be back within the next few weeks.

That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday question. Who should end up on the outside of the Oilers’ numbers game when Larsson and Sekera return to the lineup?

When Larsson gets activated…

The Oilers currently have a full 23-player roster with Sekera and Larsson on the Injured Reserve. Cam Talbot, of course, is also on the IR, but it’s inevitable Nick Ellis, who doesn’t require waivers, will be sent down to AHL Bakersfield once the starting goalie returns, so there’s nothing to talk about there. The more interesting discussion is how the Oilers will handle the return of two top-four defenders, especially with the newly-acquired Brandon Davidson back in the mix.

When the team was fully healthy minus Sekera for the first 26 games of the season, Todd McLellan operated largely with Eric Gryba as the team’s sixth defenceman. Slowly, though, he began to use Yohann Auvitu more. Then, when Larsson was placed on the IR on Dec. 1, he rolled with Auvitu and Gryba as the third pair, which was predictably a disaster.

In five games without Larsson, Auvitu and Gryba played together twice, but Brandon Davidson has slotted in alongside the French defender in the past three games. It’s pretty clear based on usage before and after Larsson’s injury that Auvitu has passed Gryba on the depth chart.

With that in mind, you have to assume that when Larsson is activated, Gryba is the one who ends up on the outside looking in. He’s a right-handed shot like Larsson and has struggled to be effective in his tough, physical, shutdown role this season. With Davidson and Kris Russell more effective in a similar role, there doesn’t seem to be a place on the roster for Gryba.

Gryba will have to clear waivers if sent to the AHL when Larsson returns. He’s signed for this season and next at a $900k cap hit. He won’t have a buried cap hit while playing in the AHL if he clears. I have a feeling he would make it through waivers because I’m not sure if a team would want to make a year-and-a-half commitment to a fringe player, but you never know.

When Sekera gets activated…

Feb 3, 2017; Raleigh, NC, USA; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Andrej Sekera (2) passes the puck against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Edmonton Oilers 2-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

This, of course, is the more difficult discussion. I’m operating under the assumption Gryba goes down when Larsson is activated, but that in itself isn’t even a certainty. I think it’s a reasonable assumption based on recent usage, though. Anyways, the Oilers have themselves a difficult decision to make when Sekera returns, barring another injury before the veteran defender is set to return.

The logical decision would seem to be putting Auvitu through waivers. The Oilers are activating a defenceman, so they should inevitably just send the seventh down, right? I’m not sure it’s that simple. I think you run a much greater risk of losing Auvitu on waivers than you do Gryba because he offers a more unique skill set, being an offence-driving defenceman. If you do lose Auvitu on waivers and, say, Oskar Klefbom goes down later on or Sekera struggles to regain form, you don’t have an immediate option to fill back in.

Could the team opt to run with eight defencemen and 13 forwards? Auvitu played as a defenceman/forward in Europe and has even seen time up front with the Oilers this season. Would the team rather try to sneak Nathan Walker through waivers instead of Auvitu? It’s a difficult decision.

Currently, the only players on the Oilers who can be sent down without requiring waivers are Darnell Nurse, Anton Slepyshev, and Jesse Puljujarvi. Obviously, Nurse isn’t going down because he’s the team’s No. 1 defender this season. I don’t see a reason to send back Puljujarvi, as he’s hitting his stride at the NHL level. Slepyshev has been in and out of the lineup, but has been a solid contributor when playing.

What say you, Nation? Who do you boot from the roster when Larsson returns in the near future? And then, who ends up on the outside looking in when Sekera returns? Does the team go out of its way to keep Auvitu around, or am I overestimating his value? Is there a clever way to manipulate the injured reserve to prolong this decision? 


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  • JimmyV1965

    Don’t get the love for Benning on this thread. Other than Auvito and Gryba, he’s been by far our worst dman. And I’m not sure he’s played better than those two. It’s nice that he’s RHD but he’s been awful. Hes not fast, he gets killed by pressure down low, he can’t pass, he’s not physical, his shot is meh and he’s not creative. What’s to like?

  • Dirtbag Daddy

    The Oilers have played a lot of East Conference games. The West is a more physical conference and it will be interesting to see what defencemen will show up to ring the bell when the physical play starts (playoffs). The question is which defencemen can’t handle the physical portion of the playoffs. Which defencemen can support the goalie in front of their net. Remember, Eberle was criticized for his lack of compete along the boards and was shipped out. Who will the defencemen be?

  • Anton CP

    Last year works so with a little tweak:

    Klefbom-Larsson
    Nurse-Sekera
    Russell-Benning/Davidson

    Maybe they can consider to move Auvitu to forward as previously suggested.

    • abbeef

      As has been said, I would keep 8D and 13F. Send Gryba and Slepyshev down. Run Benning as the 7th and Auvitu as the 8th/ emergency winger.

      Nurse/Larsson
      Klefbom/Davidson
      Sekera/Russell

  • BingBong

    Benning has been a mess all year, I have no idea why people like him. Constant turnovers, bad reads, can’t break the cycle, etc. Every time he comes out I cringe.
    Getting Sekera and Larsson back allows Auvito to be the 7th where he belongs, and let us send down Benning and Gryba where they belong.

  • Buke

    Klefbom, Larsson, Sekera, Russell, Nurse, Davidson, Benning are the seven D you keep

    Nothing wrong with keeping 8 but I keep Gryba over Auvitu just in case you need some size in the lineup one night. No big loss if either gets claimed.